In this series, Dr Jessica Moody, unit co-ordinator of the third year Practice-Based Dissertation option, interviews students about their projects and experiences of this unit.
The Practice-Based Dissertation was first introduced at Bristol in 2020-21 and enables students to produce a practical, public-facing ‘public history’ output as well as a 5000 word Critical Reflective Report.
This week Lesley Kinsley, a postgraduate research student in the department, shares a roundel displaying a bird that is extraordinarily important in environmental history.
I only bought this recently and it is a copy of a section of a beautiful window in the main house at the National Trust Tyntesfield estate near Bristol. The Trust sells this roundel as a pigeon in its shop, but the estate owners made their fortune exporting Peruvian guano and I am convinced that this is just one of three main types of guano producing bird. Its excrement was dug from beneath it and exported as fertiliser, making it one of the most valuable birds in the world. It still lives and breeds off the coast of Peru, but in much smaller numbers, oblivious to the importance of its place in history. It will always remain a strong symbol to me of the significance of past human interventions in landscapes and the ecosystem changes that ensued – and why environment is such an essential component of historical study.
This week’s object, isn’t really an object, but a group of animals. Our final year undergraduate student Ben Eagle explains how these earthworms have inspired his history dissertation.
Earthworms have only recently become an historical interest of mine although I have had a soft spot for them, working and walking in the fields of the Essex landscape, as long as I can remember. As some of the oldest animals on the planet they fascinate me as much as they fascinated Charles Darwin who published a lengthy treatise on earthworms in 1881. These particular worms, a family of 80 eisenia foetida, a species of compost worm,were kindly given to me by a fellow Bristol undergraduate. They connect me to the soil and to the past, both personally and intellectually and they have inspired me to both pursue environmental history and to push boundaries in my writing, particularly relating to how we can study the natural sciences alongside the humanities.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council, which funded an Orchard Heritage Project that Professor Peter Coates organized, has produced a podcast about its activities, which was filmed and recorded on site during Quantock Apple Heritage Day on 19 October 2013. This kind of project illustrates the Department’s outward looking nature and its public engagement ethos. The Department’s team at this event included two MA students who are taking the Public History unit. Sara Davis and Heather Hammer helped record apple and orchard stories and memories related by local residents who attended.